For all intents and purposes, the Sabres season has been rendered irrelevant for weeks. Their slow start has pretty much stretched the entire course of the year and they’re looking at another year in the league’s basement, hoping for some lottery luck.
Preseason chatter had the Sabres as a dark horse playoff contender, a team that may have had the pieces necessary to snag one of the wild card spots in the East. You may have even found a sports betting site like Betulator.com to place a wager or two on the Sabres outlook. Unfortunately that wouldn’t be money well spent.
The Sabres rebuild has stalled and stalled in a bad way. Unfortunately we’re left looking to the pipeline once again, wondering where the help will come from after seeing the organization’s lack of depth serve as a major speed bump to the post-2014 building process. A deeper dive on exactly where things went wrong will be coming in this space soon, so stay tuned for that.
Jason Botterill’s decision to recall Brendan Guhle and Linus Ullmark may strike some fans as a sign that things are finally changing, that the Sabres are committing to their youth and finally attempting to inject the lineup with young talent. I’m not quite so optimistic, but not because I think either of these two prospects are lacking in skill or potential, but because Botterill told us how he wants to play his hand and pulling two of Rochester’s top performers is counter to his strategy.
Getting a look at Guhle and Ullmark prior to Buffalo’s bye and at a time the Amerks have a light schedule does follow that process, however.
John Vogl wrote as much for The Buffalo News yesterday. The schedule is conducive to giving Guhle and Ullmark a cameo in what’s become an otherwise lost season. Viktor Antipin’s illness has dragged long enough that they can place him on IR (the Sabres website indicates he has been placed on IR) retro to his first scratch, allowing him to return to action once the bye week passes. Meanwhile Guhle can get a two game look before shuttling back up the 90 to help Rochester’s impressive run.
Ullmark is a slightly tougher call as Robin Lehner practiced today ahead of the Winnipeg game, so unless he was also placed on IR for the injury he suffered against Philadelphia (unlikely), it seems that Ullmark would be returned to Rochester prior to tonight’s game.
What all this means is that despite hauling two of his AHL club’s best players, Botterill is going to continue to slow play this season. The Sabres aren’t a playoff team and as painful as it is to hear, they need to keep building and looking to the future. Given the in-season depth moves Botterill has made, it’s plausible to believe that he had lower expectations for his club than most fans and pundits did. Perhaps Botterill saw a team that needed more pieces than most of us assumed and planned to put his burgeoning talent in a better position to win (Rochester) than trying to shoehorn pieces onto the big club where their growth would ultimately be stunted.
Guhle is going to get a chance to play a pair of games on home ice and then will probably be sent back to Rochester. Barring the Sabres waiving Chad Johnson, Ullmark may not get the same opportunity, but that’s perfectly fine. In my opinion, there are two things to keep in mind regarding this recall. First, Botterill is acutely aware of how well his best prospects are performing. Second, he’s setting the stage for those key pieces to step into NHL roles sooner rather than later.
It’s difficult to find any silver linings with this Sabres team and continuing to pin hopes to prospects has worn thin on a lot of fans. But it’s been a long time since the Sabres had key prospects fueling a winning team in Rochester. Perhaps that’s the formula which will push the necessary talent to finally pull the Sabres out of the basement.